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Pronounced ‘Glen-Far-Clas’, this is one of the few remaining truly family owned and run distilleries in Scotland. The distillery was first licensed in 1836 by tenant farmer Robert Hay, although evidence suggests that distilling took place on the farm some years earlier.
The involvement of the present owners, the Grants family, dates back to 1865 when John Grant (the Great Great Grandfather of the present proprietor) took over the tenancy of Rechlerich Farm from the Ballindalloch estate. He was a farmer not a distiller but purchased the distillery with the farm at a price considerably less than some single bottles of Glenfarclas sell for today.
Over the generations the distilling side of the business grew and during the 1890s John Grant’s grandchildren sought outside capital to better take advantage of the then growth in the whisky industry. They formed a partnership with Leith-based blenders Pattison, Elder & Company. The brothers Robert & Walter Pattison were originally dairy traders in Edinburgh who had recognised an opportunity in the burgeoning whisky trade, establishing their blending company in 1887 and on the back of their advertising and marketing, raised substantial funds from investors.
It transpired that the Pattisons were fraudulent and they were imprisoned and their company bankrupted in 1998. What became known as the 'The Pattison Crisis' sent shockwaves through the Scotch whisky industry and had a serious impact on Glenfarclas with the Grants left carrying much of the debt. Despite this, two World Wars and Prohibition, the Grants continued to build Glenfarclas and in 1930 were in a position to buy the lease from the Ballindalloch Estate when it expired that year.
The 1950s saw the repeal of the 1880 Spirits Act, so allowing simultaneous mashing and distillation for the first time, so effectively doubling capacity. The decade also brought relaxation of barley rationing so encouraging a rapid expansion in whisky production. The boom times continued through the 1960s and capacity at the distillery was much increased. Then in 1968 the Distillers Company (now Diageo) wrote to George S. Grant (the present proprietor’s father) informing him that they did not plan to buy Glenfarclas for blending the following year. It turned out they did but this threat made him start laying down more casks for sale as Glenfarclas Single Malt.
Thanks to the forethought of his father, the current Chairman, John L S Grant and his son, George Stewart Grant (representing the 5th and 6th generations) found themselves with 43 consecutive vintages from 1952 to 1994 and in 2006 started to bottle the very best of these casks, with at least one from each year as the Glenfarclas Family Casks Collection. All the bottles in the collection are from sherry casks at cask strength and bottled without the addition of caramel colouring.
The distillery sits alongside the A95 between Grantown-on-Spey and Craigellachie and is home to the largest stills in Speyside. The visitor center opened in 1973 and includes the opulent Ship Room which is fitted out with original oak paneling from the first class smoking lounge of the SS Empress of Australia, a passenger liner built in the early 1900’s.